FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — Fresno City Council President Nelson Esparza has filed a defamation lawsuit against fellow councilmember Garry Bredefeld Monday after accusations that Esparza had extorted City Attorney Doug Sloan.

The suit filed on Monday states that on or around April 21, the city council discussed information from Sloan being “weaponized by other council members for the purpose of partisan political attacks.”

An amendment was then proposed and passed that would stop councilmembers from using the city attorney to investigate other councilmembers, according to the documents, adding that if an investigation was necessary a closed session would be held and an independent counsel could be sought to advise the council.

The next day City Attorney Douglas Sloan stopped by Esparza’s office and discussed the councilmembers’ concerns “about the weaponizing of information provided by the City Attorney to council member Bredefeld,” according to the suit.

“[Esparza] further informed Mr. Sloan that he was not presently inclined to vote for termination but that, as a voting member of the Council he wanted to have reassurances that the previous night’s resolution would be complied with and abided by,” says the lawsuit. “At no time did plaintiff Esparza direct, order, imply or suggest to Mr. Sloan that he should work only for ‘the majority’ of the Council or only for any certain Councilmembers to the exclusion of any others.”

Additionally, the suit says that Esparza and Sloan discussed confidential matters that Esparza says were protected by attorney-client privilege.

The lawsuit comes after Bredefeld held a news conference alleging that Esparza had threatened Sloan during the April 22 meeting. Bredefeld alleged that Esparza demanded Sloan do four specific things:

  • Work solely for the Fresno City Council majority (Nelson Esparza, Miguel Arias, Tyler Maxwell, Esmeralda Soria)
  • No longer work for the other council members (Garry Bredefeld, Luis Chavez, Mike Karbassi)
  • Not do any work for Garry Bredefeld, Luis Chavez and Mike Karbassi – and to report back to Esparza about what was required of him
  • Understand that Nelson Esparza was the only thing stopping the city attorney from being fired by the Fresno City Council majority

On Friday evening an email surfaced from Sloan purportedly detailing the April 22 conversation between Esparza and Sloan:

“Yes, on the morning of April 22, I spoke to Council President in his office. This was the exchange:

NE: ‘I’m just going to cut to the chase, I’m standing between you and you losing your job. From now on you are to work only for the Council majority.’

DS: ‘So what do I do if the others ask me to do something?’

NE: ‘Come talk to me.’

DS: ‘So where is Luis [Chavez] on this’

NE: ‘It doesn’t matter.’”

In a statement, Esparza says the lawsuit is self-explanatory, saying, “I am focused on our work at City Hall. We have the city budget coming up very shortly and I will continue to work with the City Attorney’s Office and my Council colleagues in order to deliver for Fresno residents.”

Bredefeld was not immediately available for comment.